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 Post subject: Health Problems with Current Dance Practice
PostPosted: Mon Jun 11, 2007 8:02 am 

Joined: Sun Dec 12, 1999 12:01 am
Posts: 2974
Location: The Bronx is up; the Battery's down
Note: In another thread, a parallel discussion has evolved, concerning health problems caused by current dance practice. After some consideration, some moderators felt it would be best to split the topics, so as to not delete the well-deserved tributes to Darcy Bussell.

KANTER wrote:
Miss Carles writes,

“Bussell’s Farewell means the end of a generation of Royal Ballet dancers. It may not have been a great generation; it certainly was a troublesome one. »

Well, the author of these lines has seen Miss Bussell on many occasions over the past years, and one always had the impression of someone dancing on pain-killers. How she got through “Sylvia” three years ago was a miracle, as every bone in the poor woman’s body creaked. One felt pity and regret before this, but no artistic emotion.

As Miss Carles suggests, no, it was not a great generation.

Miss Bussell is a product of the Guillem era, that marks the shift from classical dancing as an art form, to an opportunistic use of the turnout and the other external trappings of “classical” training as a shell, into which a sports and entertainment content, as glamorous as it is destructive, is injected.

Relieved as one might be that Miss Bussell, spouse to a merchant banker, will have the means to hire private medical consultants and deal with the health issues she has so often, and so frankly, referred to, others will be rather less “fortunate”, if that is the word.

Allow me to underline one quote from Miss Bussell’s latest interview in The Times, that proves the point: in current teaching, the “visuals”, the non-concept of “prettiness”, are allowed to over-ride the anatomical evidence. (Remember that only thirty years ago, we stood perfectly erect on point, and never went over the shoe, the weight being distributed over the long strong bones of the body.)

“Darcey puts her palm flat on the table, with the wrist hinging at a right angle ¬ the proper position of the foot in relation to the shin. Then she bends the hand forward, paw-like, and presses down on it. "This is what you are doing with the ankle when you are on pointe. When the joint is at that extreme, with the whole weight of the body going through it, it is totally wrong. The physios come in and say, 'No wonder you are in trouble. Maybe if you pulled back a bit...', and we say, 'Ah yes, but then it doesn't look so pretty.'"

Elsewhere, Miss Bussell describes herself as "supremely athletic", for which she has acknowledges having "paid the price".

"Un'arte, e non uno sport"?

LMCtech wrote:
I always wondered what would happen to these extreme ballerinas eventually and now I have my answer. I hope Ms. Bussell uses her hard won experience to caution young dancers against eschewing good technique for flash. Ballet is hard enough on the body without purposefully ignoring ballet's built in protections.

kurinuku wrote:
The last dance
by ALAN FRANKS for the Times
published: May 26, 2007

While many 38-year-olds would put in crazy quantities of time and money to hang on to such racehorse condition as hers, she is moving eagerly in the opposite direction, ...


Darcey's last dance
by MARTIN KETTLE for the Guardian
published: June 4, 2007

But at least Bussell is doing what the prime minister has found it more difficult to do. She is going out at the top, not waiting to leave until she loses the thing that took her there. By doing so, she is doing exactly what one of Tony Blair's underlings vainly hoped he could achieve, quitting while the public begs for more.


Royal Ballet
by DEBRA CRAINE for the Times
published: June 5, 2007

This unprecedented coverage marks the end of an era, for Bussell was the first English ballerina since Margot Fonteyn to capture the popular imagination, and there’s no one waiting in the wings to replace her in the hearts and minds of the British public.

KANTER wrote:
Jeffrey Taylor in (and probably in the Sunday Express as well?) proposes that Bussell be appointed to the House of Lords.

For Heaven's Sake.

A/ we have enough Blairite political appointees already and

B/ this whole business with Bussell is a tempest in a teacup.

She is not, nor was she ever, a great artist.

Whether she ever was, really, a ballet dancer, is also a moot point.

Punto y aparte.

My only regret is that she has been in such physical pain for so long - almost her entire career in fact, and that she now, unsurprisingly, has severe osteo-arthritis.

In all events, the blame lies not with her, but with certain professors, and choreographers, who have pushed what was once simply an ambitious child, into an area where she is, and always has been, completely out of her depth.

Managing one's career like a successful businessman, being as responsible, ambitious and driven as one is efficient and reliable, is not necessarily the same thing as being a great artist.

Do the art form a favour, and let us all stop blathering on about this poor sportswoman, who plans to leave the country for Australia in the New Year anyway.

Oh, and by the bye - as others have had the good sense to mention, there is a lady called Belinda Hatley, about retire on the very same day, June 8th. Here IS a ballet dancer, AND an artist, lest we forget.

ksneds wrote:
I would suggest that all dancers are athletes - and this does not take anything away from their roles as artists. Simply, like elite football players or swimmers or runners, they are in exquisite physical shape, both muscularly and cardio-vascularly. It's just that a dancer's pursuit is that of artistry, while a sportsperson pursues victory.

As to technique - bad technique has been around as long as ballet. It is not a modern invention and it's fair to say that as long as their is ballet, there will be people who's technique is not up to par. To blame it on modern invention or dancers or teachers or choreographers is not appropriate nor accurate.

And, there's nothing natural about being on pointe - balancing all of one's weight on just a few toes is going to cause damage. Whether sooner or later, depends on the dancer's technique and physique.

I, for one, am glad that dancers like Bussell have pushed the boundaries of ballet. Otherwise we'd be left back in the 19th century where dancers never got beyond demi-pointe or did more than two or three turn because they didn't spot. The vast majority of what we would consider classical ballet would never have existed had generations of dancers not pushed the boundaries. To me ballet is as much Balanchine as it is Petipa and Wheeldon and Bournonville and Neumeier and Forsythe.


LMCTech wrote:
All good points as usual, Kate.

I also do not see athleticism in dancers as a bad thing and hesitate to condemn all modern ballet as vulgar. There is always some nostalgia for the glories of that past, but it is easy to over glorify them. Looking into the past with rose-colored glasses is very easy and in some respects comforting. I prefer to look ahead.

I have to commend Ms. Bussell for her openess about her injuries and pain. The truth is not always relayed in the ballet world and I think hers is an important message for the next generation to hear.

KANTER wrote:
The author of these lines has attempted to discuss these matters in somewhat more depth in several essays, such as "What's Wrong with Balanchine".

At this particular point in time, all that can be said for those essays on the Vestris site, is that one has acquired a whole new crowd of enemies ....

Be that as it may, allow me to point out that several of the posters here do not appear to have listened, carefully, to what Miss Bussell herself is saying.

On the Channel 4 television interview a couple of nights ago, she clearly states: "Well, we do still dance the old ballets, but in a way where everything is so much more extreme - although of course 'they' wouldn't admit that" (laughs). And at several points in that same programme, she repeats that dancing today has become extreme - "big time", as compared even with a few years back.

In another passage quoted in the thread above, which, again, no-one seems to have carefully read, Miss Bussell explains perfectly clearly that she (like most others) has disregarded medical advice to stand on point in the "old way", i.e. by pulling back along the line of the long strong bones, because "it wouldn't look so pretty".

She has also said that both her hips are crumbling, and that when she saw the X-rays "it made my blood run cold".

Bussell is neither 58, nor 68, nor 78, but 38, and those particular X-rays were made five years ago, when she was 33!

There is nothing more "unnatural" about ballet dancing, than there is about playing the bassoon or the cello. The turnout does NOT destroy your hipjoint if taught, and used, simply to stabilise the lower body and provide torque, rather than as a "visual" effect in the feet, for heaven's sake.

Were orchestral musicians in severe pain throughout their career, musical life would grind to a halt overnight.

And classical dancing is, quite literally, grinding to a halt along with its practitioners' hip and other joints.

At the time of writing, roughly half the principal dancers in the POB are off injured (and I have left out of the count, the people who are over forty and rarely dance now). In the past two years alone, we have had lads and lasses of 21 and 22 off for six months to a year or more, owing to severe injury. And people of that age who have already been operated several times.

This business began with Balanchine - not all of his work, but much of it. And his outlook, that is body-orientated. Classical dancing as a "look", as a "visual". Since his day, a generation whose cultural references are Acid Rock, Rave, and other forms of wanton wrecking of the human mind, has come to the fore, with no respect whatsoever either for the body, or for the soul, of the classical dancer. The public expects to see people be virtually hung-drawn-and-quartered on stage, and if they don't get that, they haven't got their licks, eh?

We have developed an appetite for various forms of destruction, and it may be about time that we all put ourselves on a diet.

Can this be done? Oh yes it can!

At the end of the 19th Century, under the influence of Liszt, Wagner..., public performance of Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann and so forth, serious classical music, had become an inflated expression of the Ego, where people no longer bothered even to read the score properly. The musician would flounce in with a Beethoven sonata, or whatever, and proceed to free-associate in public. Then came along Pau Casals and Wanda Landowska. They went back to the text, and played it. As a point of departure to cleaning up the whole mess, they stressed Bach, for reasons that should, or may, be obvious.

Well, we've got to that point in classical dancing. We need a Casals and a Landowska.

Any candidates?

LMCTech wrote:
Ballet is an art, but it is also requires the body to be in tip top shape and that could be considered athleticism.

This is a debate we've had before, and I am not in the mood to repeat it so I am going to drop it for now.

I see Bussell's suffering as a choice she made for herself. There are plenty of dancer out there that have chosen to dance more correctly for their own facilities and to heed their doctors and physical therapists advice. I don't think it is fair to blame "them" for a decision she made herself, regardless of the pressures she felt she was under.

Crumbling hips are not news in ballet. I have been told of dancers from the 50's who quit because of crumbling hips. Ballet is NOT natural, even at it's most benign. It is NOT natural to be constantly turned out and to be on top of one's toes. Or to lift 120 lbs with one hand or with one's neck in an awkward position. It always takes a toll.

KANTER wrote:
Well, that's your opinion.

Over the past twenty years, the author of these lines has had occasion to discuss this less-than-cheery little subject with twenty-five or so sports doctors, physiotherapists, bio-mechanics specialists, osteopaths, chiropractors, GPs and rhumatologists. And as many practising high-level dancers.

To say they do not share your view, Sir, is an understatement.

You might, for example, wish to consider the views of Jean-Guillaume Bart, at ... glish.html

M. Bart being étoile of the Paris Opera, to ascribe his statements to 'Sour Grapes' would perhaps qualify as reckless.

Or you might also want to look up an interview published three years ago in the English monthly 'Dance Europe' with the "osteopath of the dance", Margaret Papoutsis. After thirty years in the trade, she certainly does not care to mince her words.

PB2003 wrote:
My point was simply that I prefer the lines used today. Kanter you cannot tell me that people disagree with me because that is my opinion.

I have not made any comment as to whether medically it is good or bad for you.
My other point was that Opera singing is also unatural, which is fact.

KANTER wrote:
Am somewhat concerned by the "knee-high to a grasshopper" turn this thread has taken.

Again, it is your "belief" or "opinion" that "opera singing" is unnatural.

By that token, we should still be swinging from the trees like a giant Sloth, or Lemur.

Nothing that man has achieved, did he ever achieve in a state of nature.

Walking erect, rather than rambling about on all fours like an ape, was a decision by Man. It was "unnatural".

Learning to speak, rather than grunting and snorting like an ape, was a decision by Man. It was "unnatural".

Mastering the element of fire, rather than tearing at raw food like an ape, was a decision by Man. it was "unnatural".

Learning how to sow plants and live from agriculture, rather than hunting-and-gathering, was a decision by Man. It was "unnatural".

Building a dwelling, rather than shivering in a foetid cave, was a decision by Man. It was "unnatural".

If one wishes to call such learned activity "unnatural", so be it. Allow me to call it "learned".

As you may or may not know, the first thing all song-teachers will tell you, is NEVER DO ANYTHING to damage the vocal cords. The moment one feels actual pain (as opposed to discomfort, or simple laziness), they will tell you STOP STOP STOP.

Opera singing today is far more scientifically-taught than classical dancing.

At the present time, classical dancers are encouraged, and often forced, to do things that cause permanent harm to the body, such as stretching well beyond any normal ambitus of articulation, and forcing an extreme "visual" turnout.

Although such harm has become the fashion, it is unnecessary. Nor does it "improve" one's stage performance - on the contrary, it detracts. Try spending most of your adult life in pain.

It may be hard for you to conceptualise this. Perhaps you have never danced.

But there is a wide wide gulf between "discomfort", "paroxysm of effort", "pushing oneself" and "call for oxygen" (unpleasant, but bearable, given the higher objective!), on the one hand, and searing or throbbing pain, on the other.

The average citizen today is so unused to pushing himself, so unused to even the idea of a paroxysm of effort, that he may get things all mixed up.

While it is perfectly normal, usual and habitual for a ballet dancer to do things highly unusual and inhabitual in terms of effort, compared to the man in the street, the fact that we - professors, repetiteurs, choregraphers and public, tolerate, and even push, for people to be in severe, searing pain in order to "get our pleasures", is QUITE ANOTHER MATTER.

That is the turning point, beyond which, dancing becomes both unscientific and unnatural - at least in my book.

This is a serious cultural problem, that has to do with a widespread sadism and voyeurism in our society, not confined, by any means, to the ballet.

Indeed, we now see people go out and vote for X, Y and Z, KNOWING that those politicians will "crack down on the darkies", or invade other people's countries and bomb them. On a more-or-less conscious level, voters doubtless expect this, even look forward to it. They have been conditioned to "enjoy" such an outcome, thanks to the Hollywood, video game and "entertainment" industry where the "happy end" is always someone being burnt or slashed to bits in the ugliest way possible.

We might wish to consider cleaning up our act.

PB2003 wrote:

If you read my posts I have not actually disagreed with you regarding whether the type of dancing discussed is beneficial to a dancers well being ot not. I merely stated that I prefer certain lines over another, so I'm not sure why you're trying to convince me of your argument.

The question is whether dancers choose to go to these extremes because they feel pressurised to do so or whether they actually do it because they feel that it gives a better line. If they are going through extreme pain in order to replicate these positions then this is obviously not a good thing. If on the other hand it is easily within their range of movement and their choice then it should be fine.

ksneds wrote:
A gentle, but firm reminder about our courtesy rule. Please treat all dancers and posters with respect. Everyone should feel welcome to express their opinions - there is no such thing as a right or wrong opinion. And please keep the discussion to dance, and to Ms. Bussell.

Now let us go back to the focus of this discussion - sharing memories and reflections on the long, and interesting career of Darcey Bussell. For a wonderful and poignant reflection on four retiring ballerinas - including Bussell - I point to Alistair Macaulay's recent article: ... 0maca.html

Kate (moderator)

Cassandra wrote:
Once again this all just someone's opinion, doctor or not. I see it as overly reactionary.

Margaret Papoutsis is not just 'someone', her list of patients is a who's who of the elite of the dance world and she has treated dancers worldwide. If she says that hyperextensions are harmful then they are.

As a former patient of Mrs Papoutsis myself, I've discussed this at length with her and she is in no doubt as to what is the root cause of her recently increased work load.

ksneds wrote:
Even doctors can disagree...and if they didn't, medicine would probably never advance. It is worth noting that doctors (other than GPs) tend to see only those who are sick/injured, and not those who don't have problems. So sometimes their view is a bit skewed.

I wonder if there have been any dance medicine conferences to allow various medical professionals (doctors, nurses, physios, podiatrists etc.) to discuss and debate their findings. Or a dance medicine journals where observations and studies can be subject to peer review, and published to spread and share knowledge. But that's another topic of discussion...

That said, please let's take this discussion back to Bussell!

Did anyone see Saturday night's TV coverage? Or the actual performance? Having been away for the weekend and having forgotten to set my VCR, I missed BBC's show. It sounded like an interesting broadcast - comments anyone?


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